Breisach might sit on the banks of the Rhine and have a chequered history, but you know what? I didn’t care. It was a warm Sunday morning in the Kaiserstuhl, the birds were chirping away deliriously and I really didn’t give a damn. I was sitting on a pavement in a near empty bus station whilst Andy stood with her back to me some way off. Her back faced me because she wasn’t talking to me.
Everything was falling apart, like tired horses we’d stumbled at the last hurdle.
Kaiserstuhl – which we called the Kaiser’s Stool; not too far of the mark as Kaiserstuhl means the Emperor’s chair – was supposed to be a relatively easy crossing of the Ts after two weeks of piecing together forest trails and working out bus, tram and train routes through the Black Forest for a new slow travel holiday for Inntravel.
All we had to do was catch a train and a bus to Endingen on the northern edge of the Kaiserstuhl plateau and walk the 21 or so kilometres back to our base at Ihringen. We’d checked our bus and train timetable with the hotel receptionist and she confirmed the times, so off we toddled on the short train journey to Breisach… where the plan simply collapsed in a heap.
A lack of other people and an empty bus station set the alarms tinkling quietly; a bus timetable on a pole which didn’t match the one we’d been given raised their volume. The one bus which did appear had them at full volume when the driver confirmed there were no buses to Endingen on a Sunday.
It was our final full day in Germany, the next train back to Ihringen wasn’t until 11.30am, and we had to come up with a walking route of between 15 and 20km or there was no new holiday.
It was a potential disaster and we turned on each other because both of us are conscientious about coming up with the goods. Circumstances had conspired to push us to the edge of failure. We don’t handle that well.
Once the bruises were healed and adversity brushed aside, we started hatching alternative plans. By the time it was nearly midday, we were back in Ihringen where we started with one last, dangerously taut string to our bow.
The Sunken Lanes
Ihringen is a wine lover’s dream of a town, nearly every arched entrance leads to a wine cellar, usually with restaurant attached. It’s a place to eat, drink and be very merry. A walk through its streets throws up plenty worthy of a pause and ponder. It didn’t take long before we reached a country lane which transported us from the pretty town into sunny country lanes lined by golden vines.
Sunny country lanes initially, but quickly the banks on either side of our narrow path rose steeply, and we were hemmed in between sheer clay walls – sunken lanes caused by 400 years of cartwheels creating deeper and deeper grooves which, with the help of rainwater, became ditches and eventually the deep, sunken lanes.
Kaiserstuhl’s sunken lanes are an ochre coloured maze. You can’t see anything except the path ahead. Every so often we reached a fork with other sunken lanes heading off to who knows where? At least it would be who knows where if there weren’t helpful signposts at every junction. The walls are soft and full of caves and little holes which betray the homes of tiny bee-eater birds which hum and buzz industriously around the plants in these parts between May and December.
After a while the lanes gave way to a bewildering canvas of vine terraces. Bewildering because in the great wine growing areas of Europe including France, Italy and Spain, I’ve never seen vineyards like those of the Kaiserstuhl. They consist of neat rows of vines like most other places, but there the similarity ends. Terraces meet each other at sharp anarchic angles, pulling your eyes on a wildly zig-zagging journey. Of all places, Germany was the last place I’d expect to find vineyards which looked as though they’d been created by an abstract artist. But then our preconceptions, based on years of what amounted to media propaganda, had been smashed over and over again, like ripe pumpkins thrown against a wall.
This was Germany with its Mediterranean styled clothes on, a land of warm sunshine, juicy grapes, strawberry fields and cherry orchards.
There comes a point when you know things are going to work out even better than the original plan. As we zigged and zagged through those glorious vines, we were confident this was going to be a winner of a walking route.
A bit late for lunch, but in perfect time for kaffee und kuchen, our path descended to Bickensohl, a sleepy village in the heart of the vineyards. We sat on the terrace at Weinstuben Rebstock looking out over the tiled roofs whilst munching on a cherry tart (it had to be) accompanied by huge swirls of cream. We’d become big (almost literally) fans of kaffee und kuchen during our days traipsing Germany’s revelatory countryside.
Into the Oaks
With great reluctance – Weinstuben Rebstock was the sort of café/restaurant you’d want to spend ALL of Sunday afternoon – we left Bickensohl and climbed into the cooler clutches of a dense oak forest, heading towards the needle slim shape of a telecommunications tower rising above the forest canopy at an area known as Totenkopf – the skull; a place where executions were carried out. There’s a morbid aptness to it still being a spot which involves sending out messages.
Our path curved and twisted, before turning south and back towards Ihringen through the dank, dappled oaks along a wooded ridge which occasional offered teasing glimpses of the surrounding countryside.
Eventually we broke free from the forest to emerge at a hütte which was filled with local people enjoying their Sunday downtime. Whether it was a long, long lunch or an early dinner it’s difficult to tell in Germany.
The sun was just slipping toward the horizon, its last barrage of rays like a Midas touch to the land, giving the explosion of rich autumnal colours spreading across the plains below us a depth that was almost mercurial in quality.
It was a heart-soaring finale, both to this particular walking route and to our time in Germany.
The final piece of the jigsaw had just slipped seamlessly into place and the glow of satisfaction we felt at that moment was matched only by the brightness of the sunlit vine leaves which accompanied us on our final descent into Ihringen.
Jack is co-editor, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+